ACN Information Report: Monday, 21st May 2012 – SUDAN
Where Rachel weeps for her children
• War is forcing more and more women and children to flee into Ethiopia from South Sudan / A snapshot
By Eva-Maria Kolmann
“Careful! Put the cameras away!” A security patrol in a jeep thunders past in a huge cloud of red dust. We are just in time. The soldiers can go crazy if they catch somebody approaching the refugees from South Sudan, who are sitting exhausted beside the road to the airport of the western Ethiopian city of Gambella. “Very terrible”, is how the priest accompanying us describes the security forces. Cameras are not welcome, and we are not permitted to get out of the car. Secretly, we take photos through the car windows.
Under a tree beside the road, emaciated women are sitting with half-naked infants. Hanging from the branches are their colourful plastic bags, containing everything that they were able to carry with them on their long march. The thermometer is still showing a temperature of nearly 40 degrees, but in recent weeks it was even much hotter. Many of the refugees trekked for more than 200 kilometres through the murderous heat before they were finally able to find a temporary resting place.
A haggard-looking woman looks at our car, stands up and pleadingly stretches out her arms. An almost biblical motif: “Rachel weeping for her children”, is the image that comes automatically into my mind. She catches eight children who are playing around the tree and gathers them to her. Her gestures suggest that she is begging for the world to see the misery they are in. She points to her children and stretches her hands towards the heavens. She looks old. But to judge from the ages of her children, she cannot be more than about thirty. How did she manage the long trek with eight children?
As far as the eye can see, spots of colour cover the bare landscape. Uprooted people have found what pitiful shelter they could in the bush. Most of them are women and children. The men are at war. A small boy is playing with an old bicycle tyre, while other children are climbing around in the undergrowth, or cradling themselves and swinging in the branches of a bush. The mothers squat on pieces of cloth or on the bare earth. Washing hangs out on the bushes to dry. Smoke rises from various fireplaces. In a few pots, a meal is cooking that must feed a multitude.
(Refugees from South Sudan in the Apostolic Vicariate of Gambella)
In the Apostolic Vicariate of Gambella alone, which borders on South Sudan, 20,000 to 30,000 refugees have already sought shelter. More arrive every day. Bishop Angelo Moreschi is doing everything in his power to help them. As frequently as the authorities permit, he sends a tanker truck to the thirsty people. Water is immeasurably valuable here. But just as valuable are words and gestures of hope. Wherever the refugees remain for longer periods and whenever it is allowed, the priests also offer spiritual comfort. Most of the population of South Sudan are Christians. Three refugee chapels have already been erected in various places in the Vicariate. In future, far more aid will be needed, because even at this moment women in South Sudan are packing their bundles, gathering up their children and setting out on the long and difficult trek.
The signs for the future are not encouraging. The Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Khartoum wants war with South Sudan, which has been independent since last July. Experts predict that a new war in Sudan could have even more fatal consequences than the civil war between 1983 and 2005, which cost more than two million lives and made many millions homeless. There is great fear, especially in the border region between North and South Sudan. Children run screaming into caves or holes in the ground when they hear the sound of aircraft. Many people have already been killed or seriously injured by the bombing.
The drums and fireworks with which the people of South Sudan celebrated the birth of their own state less than a year ago are now long forgotten. Today, a flood of half-naked children and weeping, emaciated women is in flight. If there is no peace between North and South Sudan, yet another generation of children will know nothing but fear, death and violence or the misery of a refugee camp. “Evil exists. If anyone should doubt this, I would like to bring them and show them all the things that are happening here,” says Father Dr. Andrzej Halemba, the section head responsible for Africa and Asia at Aid to the Church in Need. Every item of assistance, every sign of hope, every neighbourly gesture, also helps to secure their spiritual survival. Will the world stand idly by?
We cannot halt for very long – we must drive on. Children wave to us. We wave back. That is all we can do for the moment. The security patrols are thundering along the road to the airport of Gambella, where Rachel weeps for her children. Who are they protecting from whom?
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
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